Much has been written about the prevalence and impact of counterfeit electronic components—and for good reason. Inauthentic parts are often previously-used devices repackaged and sold as new, low spec items relabeled to a higher or different spec, leaded components labeled as RoHS-compliant, and low-quality knock-offs. These products can lead to poor performance and failures in equipment used in medical, military, automotive and other applications where reliability is critical.
Counterfeit components are often introduced to replenish the supply chain for obsolete parts that are needed so manufacturers don’t have to re-engineer boards and contract electronics manufacturers can keep their production lines operating. These inauthentic items are commonly sold on the open market where inspection procedures can be lax or non-existent.
Does that mean you shouldn’t buy from the open market? Not at all. In fact, responsible, value-added brokers and independent resellers are indispensable to the supply chain. OEMs and CEMs simply need certainty and trust that the vendors they use are committed to providing quality parts and employ exhaustive inspection procedures on all of the components they source and resell.
Advanced manufacturing, printing and packaging capabilities have made it easier for counterfeiters to produce nearly identical facsimiles, so a multifaceted validation process is necessary to ensure accuracy. But what should manufacturers expect from their distribution partners? While the authentication process we use is highly complex, here are some general guidelines:
Know the Market
This comes with experience and good “parts gurus” are indispensable. Certain components, especially parts known to be obsolete or generally unavailable in the market, are common targets for counterfeiting. These items are often found in finished goods with a long shelf life. Don’t take chances. Assume all items are suspect until thoroughly validated by a trusted vendor or third-party.
Inspect the Packaging
Initial clues to authenticity can be evident before taking a product out of its packaging. The packaging inspection process is labor intensive, but essential to an accurate conclusion. That’s why packaging inspection is a critical component of our Validate™ Test and Inspection System. Do containers and packing slips contain the appropriate order, part and model numbers? Are the logos correct? Is the quality, construction and condition of tubes, tape, reels and trays consistent with that of the original equipment? Any signs of damage or mishandling?
Test the Devices
Are there any visual clues that create suspicion? Counterfeiters can resurface used ICs in a process called “blacktopping” which masks surface defects and previous markings. Are indents created in the manufacturing process clean and uniform? Are labeling, numbering, markings and logos correct? Does the surface rub off with a solvent? Are leads or joints broken or tarnished? Is the pin indicator filled in or shiny and smooth? Has the device been programmed or does it show signs of previously being installed in a programming device? Does the component work as it should? Microscopes, X-ray and electrical testing devices will be used in this process. In some instances, products will need to be disassembled (decapsulated) or even sent to an independent testing facility. Performance results should be checked against manufacturer data sheets.
Record and Document the Process
Photograph and document the disposition of the packaging, labels and product throughout the process. Include all test results and internal QA approvals in the record. Provide test results to the OEM or CEM as requested for proof of validation. Keep results on file for future use. Following a successful inspection, a good value-added reseller will be sure the products are properly packed for shipment using appropriate protective materials and electro-static bags manufactured to GSD standards.
Validate™ Test & Inspection System
Risk removal is a responsibility we take very seriously and passionately at Global Solutions. Our proprietary Validate™ Test & Inspection System goes well beyond the Independent Distributors of Electronics Association’s IDEA-STD-1010 standard https://idofea.org/ and enables us to achieve quality assurance levels that provide 100% peace of mind. In fact, the Validate system has been incorporated by QA managers at several of our clients. For a free Validate presentation, visit http://www.globalsolutionselectronics.com/solutions/validate/, call 866-877-8625, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.